Where, Exactly, is the Southern Tradition These Days?

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I
am not asking a rhetorical question. I am calling for public discussion.
Where is this Southern tradition that I keep hearing will eventually
produce another attempt at secession?

I came to the South, briefly, as a child in the fall of 1949.
My father was stationed temporarily at Camp Gordon (now called
Fort Gordon), Georgia, outside of Augusta. There, I got my first
experience with forced busing. The Augusta public school system
bused a lot of us Army kids across town and into what, I learned
from my mother only as an adult, was becoming a black ghetto.
The school district wanted to keep a particular elementary school
all-white. I was part of a racial quota system.

I hated it. It was the worst sustained early experience of my
life. I did not want to be driven across town every morning. In
California, I had walked to a local school. Let me tell you as
an early victim: busing for racial purposes stinks. I learned
this lesson in the South.

The education in that school was good. We moved back to southern
California after Christmas, and I found that I had covered the
entire 4th-grade curriculum in reading/English. We
used the same textbook in Georgia that they used in a progressive
education school in California. This was an early warning indicator:
the textbook companies by 1949 had already created something like
a national public school curriculum.

I moved to Durham, North Carolina, in 1977. It was pretty much
like everywhere else I had lived: same fast food restaurants,
same national chain stores in the malls, same TV shows. (Actually,
we did not own a TV, but the shows were the same.) Maybe North
Carolina is not really "the South." But I can still
recall the chorus of a song of the early 1950′s: "Way up
in North Carolina, North Carolina; that’s as far north as I want
to be." Andy Griffith went to college at Chapel Hill. Andy
ain’t no yankee, and "What It Was, Was Football," the
two-side record that launched his national career in 1953, was
surely not a product of Harvard’s curriculum. (I was actually
tempted to name my daughter, who was born in Durham, "Carolina."
I figured that would amuse readers of all the alphabetized name
lists she would be on until her marriage.)

Then we moved to east Texas, or as they write it there, East Texas.
Most residents have no southern drawl. Tyler had been the home
of the legendary running NFL back, Earl Campbell. The civic religion
of the South is high school football, and you don’t see any AWB’s
in championship high school football games. (AWB: all-white backfield.)
"That boy can run!" is not a racist phrase of opprobrium
on Friday nights. This, too, was the New South.

Education
in the South

About 45 minutes east of Tyler is Longview. Longview is the headquarters
of Mel and Norma Gabler. This couple has waged an under-funded
war against public school textbooks for over two decades. I honestly
believe that they have inflicted more pain — revenue-cutting
pain — on liberals than any two private citizens in America.
Their little organization evaluates the social studies high school
textbooks offered for sale in Texas.

The Gablers are masters of the media sound bite. They get a lot
of media
coverage
. They can kill any textbook that has made a media-juicy
gaffe, and they have killed several. If a textbook loses the Texas
market, the author might as well start over, which is what authors
do, frequently, after the Gablers review their finished products.
I can think of no two words that produce more fear in the public
school textbook industry than “the Gablers.”

The Gablers’ power to inflict pain stems from the existence of
what amounts to a liberal monopoly over public school education.
It is a national monopoly. The Gablers cannot change the system;
they can only inflict pain and slow down the tide of political
correctness. I appreciate what they do: inflict pain on liberals.
But theirs is a holding action.

For a century, the South’s public school curriculum has been written
by humanists in northern universities and published in New York
City. Reconstruction failed officially in 1877; the South’s public
school monopoly — "Made in New York" — triumphed
almost completely over the next century.

The Old Main building at the University of Arkansas was built
during Reconstruction. It has a tower on each corner. The Yankee-directed
politicians who oversaw its construction made sure that the architect
designed it so that the two towers on the north side of the building
were taller than the two on the south. Anyway, this is the explanation
given by the locals.

The dreams of Southern partisans had better be more visionary
than building taller towers on Old Main’s southern side.

When there are private buyers for the University of Arkansas and
every other public school in the South, then I will consider joining
with Southern partisans to declare a New, Improved South. When
there are curriculum materials that show what the South’s positive
heritage was, and how it can be regained, I’ll be impressed.

Popular
Music as a Reflector of Culture

Maybe a Southern teenager flies the Stars and Bars on his car’s
radio antenna. So what? He listens to country music. Country music
today is one long wail of adultery and broken marriages. (I say
this as a former disc jockey of a late-1960′s country music radio
show in California.) Country music offers the theology of the
blues, but packaged for white folks: steel guitars and, more recently,
dobro guitars instead of bottleneck style. The ethics and worldview
of poor white trash have taken control of a large segment of the
nation’s FM-radio airwaves, but this should be no cause for rejoicing
in the South. On this cultural foundation, no one will ever build
much of a civilization.

When Sun Records released Elvis Presley’s first commercial record
in 1954, it offered a blues number on one side — Arthur Cruddup’s
"That’s All Right, Mama" — with an upbeat version
of Bill Monroe’s "Blue Moon of Kentucky" on the other.
That two-sided single was the essence of Sun Records’ breakthrough
and also its first big hit. It was rock-a-billy. It fused country
music and the blues. Sun’s Sam Phillips created a new form of
music over the next two years. It was to become a major stream
leading into what would become, by 1956, a cultural tidal wave.
Perry Como never had a chance.

In the early 1940′s, Bill Monroe and banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs
also invented a separate musical art form: bluegrass. Today, at
any bluegrass festival, you will hear gospel themes, working men’s
themes, rural family left behind themes, and not too much about
adultery. When you do hear about adultery, it is mostly about
how very bad things happen to adulterers. Many bluegrass festivals
open with prayer.

I have loved bluegrass since that glorious day, in 1958, when
I heard my first bluegrass album, performed by some good old,
down-home, New York City boys named Sprung, Cohen, and Kilberg:
the Shanty Boys. I did not learn about Flatt & Scruggs until
Vanguard’s release of the Newport Folk Festival album in 1959.
Yet, as a teenage record store clerk and a folk music nut-case,
I had heard a lot of regional music, 1956-59, in the store and
on Los Angeles FM radio, which, before the invention of the Japanese
transistor portable radio, was not much listened to. It had taken
almost two decades for bluegrass to reach southern California.
(The first West Coast bluegrass group, the Golden State Boys,
appeared about then, co-founded by Larry and Tony Rice’s father
Herb, but I didn’t hear about them until the early 1960′s.)

Bluegrass, apart from the magnificent Alyson Krause, remains on
the fringes of country music. Festival attendees are mostly over
40. Bluegrass is not really the Old South — 1943 was hardly
the Old South — but it does reflect the older yeoman Southern
tradition. Nothing in popular culture reflects the upper-class
Southern tradition, which was gone with the wind long before Bill
Monroe was born.

Still
Searching

So, as I have looked around the South over the years, I have not
seen much in the way of Southern high culture. Maybe Southern
partisans have. I would like to know where.

The South that I have seen, writ large across the region, is Atlanta.
Atlanta began as a railroad town, grew into a place for fast-money
operators to make fast money, was burned by Sherman precisely
because it was a railroad crossroad, and — tragically — rose
again. When you hear the words, “The South will rise again,” think
of Atlanta. Think of Coca-Cola. Think of Marta, the public transit
system. Think of the Atlanta Constitution. Think of — I
can barely stand the thought — the Atlanta airport, through which
most southern residents must fly whenever we don’t go through
Dallas/Ft. Worth. My favorite scene in “Gone With the Wind” is
the burning of Atlanta. It was the city that Rhett Butler chose
after the War to set up shop and buy himself a little class, a
place where everyone was nouveau riche, and always had been.

Here is what was never part of the Old South: compulsory, tax-funded
education; New York City-published textbooks; football and basketball;
country music; rock-and-roll; the blues; and the Ku Klux Klan.
("The Klan," an Alabamian physician told me in 1977,
"is made up of two groups: gas station attendants and FBI
informers. Everyone knows who the informers are: the guys who
pay their dues.") Sorry, but I just cannot imagine Robert
E. Lee in the Razorbacks’ football stadium, yelling, "Whoooo,
sooie, pig!"

Conclusion

Give me John Randolph and John C. Calhoun. I can do without Pitchfork
Ben Tillman, Tom Watson, and Jimmy Carter. I will also be happy
do without John Marshall and little Jimmy Madison, just to show
where my sympathies lie. But, above all, give me Patrick Henry.
He saw clearly what had come out of the closed-door sessions in
Philadelphia, but hardly anybody listened.

This much I know: you can’t beat something with nothing. This
is another way of saying that you can’t beat New York City with
Atlanta.

March
7, 2001

Gary North is the author of an eleven-volume series, An Economic
Commentary on the Bible. The latest volume is Cooperation
and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Romans. The series can
be downloaded free of charge at www.freebooks.com.

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